Cooperative Learning: Class Participation and Discussion

Due to this national policy of promoting Cooperative Learning throughout all the junior high schools in the country, I get to travel to many schools to not only share what I've learned related to this teaching approach but observe other teachers' classes and give my professional feedback and suggestions. When it comes to classroom observation, I probably have done this over twenty times, gaining plenty of experience and STEALING many brilliant ideas from it as well. So, I've developed my own framework of participation and discussion in terms of Cooperative Learning, jotting down everything, including the highlights, my questions and suggestions, to share with all the participants right after the teaching demonstration.

Before Demonstration

I'll tell the event planner that I'm really willing to help check the teacher's lesson plan prior to the real performance if that's fine with him or her. Of course, this is not mandatory, but if I do
get one, I'll carefully examine it with the following features which would help a lot to clarify some doubts: objectives, activities, assessment, materials, and time distribution. Lesson plans can come in a variety of forms and formats, but I always keep those five key elements in mind and raise some questions for discussion according to the lesson plan. Take this one for example:

7.建議老師可思考此次公開課經驗如何融入教甄的教學演示?例如如何以全英語說明在活動前、中、後的指導語及回饋等。在口試部分,若抽到的題目為「如何因應會考挑戰」、「英語閱讀教學」、「差異化教學」、 「分組合作學習」、「補救教學」等相關教學實務問題,如何以全英語回答。

The above is a recent example of how I discussed the lesson plan with the presenter in advance. As you can see, being judgmental is absolutely something I want to avoid no matter what. So, I'll reiterate that it's perfectly okay with me if they decide to stick with the original plan. After all, I don't want to jump into conclusion based on only the lesson plan.

During Demonstration
A lot of things are going on in my head when sitting in the back of the classroom. I need to be completely focused and well prepared for my job as an adviser:
1. A quick summary of the teaching procedures. This would indicate that I am preoccupied with everything in the classroom later in the meeting. I'll specifically pay attention to the seating, grouping, rewarding system, positive interdependence, individual accountability, equal participation and so on of the whole process of demonstration.
2. Strengths of the demonstration. I always bring up the strengths first before providing the rest of my opinion. For example, I usually compliment the teacher's attempt of giving activity instructions in English, being skilled at handling the CALL equipment, using intriguing board games and authentic learning materials, complete with students' active participation, to name just a few.
3. Questions regarding the demonstration. Coming up with good thought-provoking questions is an art. Again, I've met some professors and teachers who appeared quite authoritative and overbearing. They thought they could just judge a teacher with only one class observation, not to mention that they know nothing about both the students and the teacher at all. I don't want to be a jerk like that.
4. Suggestions. This is absolutely my favorite part. Based on what the teacher presented, I'd look for similar activities I've done in my own class for their future reference. The more I try out new stuff in my class, the more I can offer my advice as an alternative to the original one. Currently, I often share activities with regard to reading strategies, fun grammar application and how to get students to speak in English.

After Presentation
A meeting will be called right after the demonstration, and that's when everybody looks forward to hearing what you have to say as a so-called expert on this field of Cooperative Learning.
1. Expressing gratitude towards the demonstrator and the event planner.  I know how challenging, sometimes even intimidating, it can be for a teacher to publicly teach in front of others. Also, I would like to set the tone first that we're not here today to judge; instead, we're here to learn from each other.
2. Quickly going over what is in my notes. This includes a brief summary of the class, the highlights of the demonstration and my questions about the teaching.
3. Inviting the demonstrator to reflect on his or her own teaching today. If they need to do it one more time, what would they do to make it better?
4. Asking the participants to give their feedback. This is where I can learn about whether I've missed on something important and also what other features that they value most.
5. The Q and A session. Frequently asked questions include: "Would this student-centered approach help with the grades?", "Would it slow down my schedule?", "Would I be able to cover everything before the exams?", "The preparation seems very time-consuming, how do I make time for it?", "What if my students are getting very noisy in my class?".
6. Providing nuggets to take away. This is when this teaching blog comes in handy because I can immediately show off my lesson plans, pictures, video clips, activities, students' feedback and so on with the participants.

This job of mine is really challenging and rewarding. I really picked up many great teaching ideas from those teaching demonstrations. On top of that, in order to provide the nuggets, I am also propelled to relentlessly take what I learned into practice in my own class. To sum up, taking part in the class participation and discussion is totally a virtuous cycle to me because it satisfies my cravings for learning as well as sharing. On top of that, what really matters is that I can contribute to promoting this teaching approach and thus benefit some teachers out there.